OM in the News: Safer Surgery Through Operations Management
“Hospitals are trying to make it safer for patients to go under the knife,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 17, 2015). Surgery can be risky by its very nature, and 46% to 65% of adverse events in hospitals are related to surgery. Despite years of prevention efforts, procedures are still performed on the wrong body part and surgical tools are sewn up in patients. The consequences of surgical error are huge, both for patient health and hospital finances. Johns Hopkins estimates that there are 4,082 malpractice claims each year for “never events”—the type of shocking mistakes that should never occur. There are also 600 reported operating-room fires in the U.S. each year, though there may be many more that aren’t reported.
Many hospitals don’t collect reliable data on their own adverse events, and as industry experts say, “you can’t improve a hospital’s surgical quality if you can’t measure it.” In Tennessee, 10 hospitals participating in a data analysis program from 2009 to 2012 reported that they reduced complications by nearly 20% since 2009, saving at least 533 lives and $75.2 million in costs. Data analysis can also help prevent foreign bodies from being left in patients when they do undergo surgery. With new OM processes in place, if a count at the end of a procedure indicates sponges or instruments are missing, hospital policy requires an X-ray before the patient leaves the OR, which can’t be overruled by a surgeon.
Surgeons are also expected to follow strict infection-prevention processes, such as sterile procedures that include fully draping patients on the operating table and wearing caps and masks before putting in a central line, a tube inserted in the chest to administer IV fluids, drugs and blood. As briefings and checklists become part of the hospital culture, new doctors coming out of training know this is the expectation. Older doctors are often hard to convert.
Classroom discussion questions:
1. Why is it important to measure hospital quality?
2. What do checklists do in this setting?